Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Madison hosts media-reform conference

More than 1,500 media-reform activists descended onto Madison this weekend to participate in the first National Conference on Media Reform. Across the University of Wisconsin campus, numerous panelists and speakers discussed and debated an array of problems facing the media.

Widespread fury about the toll President Bush’s policies are taking on the news media permeated the conference. After receiving a standing ovation at his closing-session speech Sunday, Rev. Jesse Jackson accused the Bush Administration of manipulating the media throughout the war in Iraq, resulting in either false coverage of events or none at all.

“We are at war today. Information is like oxygen and we are asphyxiating from a lack of it,” Jackson said, pointing to allegations of faulty reporting about the Jessica Lynch rescue and the media’s refusal to cover returning caskets from Iraq.


“We can’t find Saddam or Bin Laden. We also can’t find the truth today. And that is why we are here,” Jackson said.

Jackson, a former Democrat presidential candidate, rallied conference participants to “take our nation back” by electing a Democratic president in the 2004 election, emphasizing a need to end “closed-door, right-wing, states’ rights,” policies.

U.S. Representative Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., also spoke at the conference. Summarizing her take on the state of the media, Baldwin quoted from the film “Cool Hand Luke” with the quip, “What we have got here is a failure to communicate.”

Baldwin also poked fun at the influence of conservatives in television, joking about the move by CBS to pull the mini-series “The Reagans,” because of its controversial depiction of former President Reagan.

The Congresswoman also expressed her frustrations with poor media coverage.

“I, for one, am enraged by the current state of media,” Baldwin vented. “I, as a member of Congress, must often turn to foreign news sources to get unbiased news, or any news at all.”

Urging members of the media community to resist “apathy,” Baldwin encouraged conference participants to organize around media reforms.

“The stakes could not be any higher,” Baldwin said. “We’ve got a media to reform and a democracy to protect.”

The conference included the “Tell Us the Truth” music concert Friday night, showcasing musicians Billy Braggs and former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello.

Acclaimed journalist Bill Moyers gave the conference’s keynote speech Saturday evening. Other notable speakers included satirist Al Franken, Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and consumer advocate Ralph Nader.

Free Press co-founders Robert McChesney and the Capitol Times’ Associate Editorial Editor John Nichols have direct ties to the Madison area. Free Press sponsored the conference in association with the University of Wisconsin A.E. Havens Center.

The recent bout of Federal Communications Commission deregulations this summer was the primary incentive to organize the conference. Companies can now significantly increase the number of media outlets they own, making some fearful of an impending information monopoly.

The FCC rollbacks served as a “wake-up call to citizens,” said Free Press Legislative Coordinator Vidya Krishnamurthy. Krishnamurthy said the public outcry over media-ownership issues reveals the deep, widespread concerns most Americans share toward the rise in corporate media.

“Policies being made in Washington have broad-ranging implications for how Americans get information,” Krishnamurthy said. “The conference is an effort to mobilize constituencies for media reform in America.”

Some media experts, however, argue that the large focus on media ownership is unwarranted. Professor James Baughman, director of the UW School of Journalism, agrees the “FCC has gone too far” and the emergence of large media companies such as Clear Channel are a distressing trend. However, Baughman argues that proponents against media ownership romanticize the media of 50 years ago and use unfounded arguments about media ownership because of a political agenda against big business.

“For ideological reasons, many make too big a deal of media ownership. I don’t think conglomeration is the main problem … I think other factors are at work.”

The conference did in fact address other issues, including hyper-commercialism and global communications. Panels ranged from topics of unfair media coverage of misrepresented groups to the rise and fall of a “people’s Internet.”

Youth and campus activism for media reform was also a hot topic. Panelists argued that young people are particularly vulnerable to negative media coverage, often resulting in negative depictions of youth in news.

According to 23-year-old panelist Rishi Awatramani, visiting from the San Francisco area, news coverage of violent crime by young people continues to climb despite declining statistics of youth violence. This, in turn, causes lawmakers to enact policies curbing the rights of young people, specifically minorities.

“Youth policy is a way to advance racist policy,” Awatramani said.

Awatramani also argued that “youth is a key constituency” to change the mass media and create a media institution responsive to democracy.

“Media reform is a way to claim, or reclaim, a democratic media,” Awatramani said.

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